WASHINGTON — In Max Scherzer’s last start, a ball pelted him on the foot, and in a precautionary move, his scheduled start was pushed back. In his return Sunday, Scherzer looked unaffected by the injury despite a rough start, pitching eight complete innings; but the Nationals’ bullpen struggled yet again, losing the rubber game of the series 4-3 to the Pittsburgh Pirates (8-6)
Scherzer led the National League with 28 strikeouts in just 19 innings going into the game. Against Pittsburgh, he continued tormenting opposing hitters, tossing seven strikeouts (which is not as impressive as his season high of 12 strikeouts, but still a respectable outing). Scherzer also threw his 2,479th career strikeout against the Pirates, passing Hall of Famer Jack Morris and placing himself 36th on the all-time career strikeout list.
However, as good as Scherzer was down the stretch, he struggled early on. The Pirates put many balls into play in the first few innings; notably, Adam Frazier and Josh Bell were very productive against Scherzer, each going 2 for 3 against him and playing a role in his three allowed runs.
“They had a good approach of going out there and being aggressive,” Scherzer said. After the third inning, he and catcher Yan Gomes discussed how to approach the hitters for the rest of the game. “[We decided to] incorporate more curveballs… to keep the mix on and allow me to sequence a little better and steal some strikes,” Scherzer added.
The game could have taken a drastic turn for the Nationals if not for center fielder Michael Taylor’s assist on the throw to home plate, saving Bell’s fourth run from scoring for the Pirates in the third inning, and Anthony Rendon’s diving snag and throw to first in the eighth inning, robbing Starling Marte of an RBI double down the line.
“We had some great defense today,” Scherzer said. “[Taylor] made a great throw to keep it a three-run ball game there… Rendon made that huge diving play when the game was right there on the line. I didn’t make that good of a pitch there to [Starling] Marte and he was able to blast it and Rendon made a great play… to keep the game 3-3.”
Scherzer’s teammates also provided him with some timely hits. Anthony Rendon continued his stellar start to the season with a single, extending his hitting streak to a career high 13 games. Additionally, Howie Kendrick had another productive game, driving in the first run of the game with a double off the center field wall and he also scored the tying run in the third inning.
From there, the game remained a 3-3 stalemate until the Nationals made a call to the bullpen for the ninth inning, putting in reliever Wander Suero. With a runner on second, Suero was just one strike away from exiting the inning unscathed, but Washington’s bullpen failed once again. Pirates outfielder Jason Martin crushed a curveball past the overextended arm of Juan Soto, scoring in the go ahead run for the Pirates on a ground rule double.
“I was trying to get it in the dirt, get him to chase it,” Suero said through his interpreter. “Unfortunately, I hung it just a little bit and he made good contact.”
Nationals Manager Dave Martinez questioned the decision to throw the pitch in that situation.
“I thought he would throw him a cutter or a changeup,” Martinez said. “His curveball is his fourth best pitch.”
Victor Robles started the bottom of the ninth for the Nationals with a pinch hit single. After a strikeout and a walk, Adam Eaton laid a beautiful bunt down the third base line, loading the bases for Howie Kendrick, who struck out swinging. This set up a perfect opportunity for Anthony Rendon, Washington’s hottest hitter. Yet, Rendon was unable to come through, instead flying out to center field, ending the team’s late rally.